Seeing the empty shelves and bare fridges in our local grocery stores has been a surreal experience. First a global pandemic, months without blue skies due to wildfire smoke, and now extreme flooding and the destruction of intra-provincial connections. It almost begs the question: what kind of post-apocalyptic world are we living in? But really, this is life with climate change.
The aftermath of the atmospheric river weather system left B.C. in a state of confusion, panic, and disbelief. The devastating loss of agricultural lands, infrastructure, and life has yet to be fully accounted for. But the recent highway closures and food supply disruptions demonstrated what food organizations like the KFPC have known for years: there are two days of fresh food in our grocery stores and what makes us secure as a community is a strong local food system.
While the media and our governing officials (from local to the provincial level) attributed the bare shelves to panic buying and hoarding – creating a sense of panic and communal distrust – what we actually witnessed was the limited capacity of our global food system and its inability to handle stress. Our global food system relies on just-in-time supply chains, globalized shipping of food, and consolidation of production and aggregation facilities that leave us vulnerable to disruptions. As Bonnie Khlon, our Food Policy Lead says, “In these times of increasing climate disasters we need mutual aid networks, local food, and policies that support a huge shift to regional agriculture.”
Although the idea of a limited food supply is frightening for our city, we must focus on changing the current narrative of “us” vs “them”, towards meaningful action and change. Instead of looking at what we don’t have, it is time to focus on what we do. The mutual aid to carry us through this period of uncertainty exists. Our KFPC members have compiled a list of free food resources and community meals on our Kamloops Changing the Face of Poverty website. Additionally, we have created an Evacuee Support Post, helping evacuees navigate the resources available.
While the empty shelves showed us the gaps in our food system, it also exemplified our strengths. Amongst a sea of nothingness, Blackwell Dairy milk stood out as a resilient local food champion. Fresh veggies were abundant at our winter Farmers Market last Saturday at Purity Feed. We also heard from local food distributors such as FarmBound stating, “we got you, we have lots of local food and this is what we’re here for.”
Strengthening our local food system can meet our regional demands regardless of interruptions or crises. Building local processing and manufacturing facilities like our local food hub, The Stir, allows us to process, preserve, and sell local food all year round.
City-wide policy changes directed by the KFPC have also positioned Kamloops to stand stronger when facing disruptions in our supply chain. For example, thanks to involvement from the KFPC, the City’s Food and Urban Agriculture Plan now supports more front yard gardens instead of lawns and allows up to five backyard chickens, seven rabbits, and – more recently – bee hives for detached houses. These measures and the policies come as a great comfort as eggs and other staples are in short supply in the grocery stores.
To further protect ourselves from global events and climate disruptions, our food systems must become proactive instead of reactionary. This moment has given us time to reflect on the inadequacies of our global system, but it also allows us to reflect on our own personal choices. How much of our diets are reliant on our global supply chain? Are our eating patterns resilient to climate change? Should we begin to focus on eating local and in-season? Are there other technologies and techniques we can capitalize on to grow more climate resilient foods like microgreens and sprouts in Kamloops? While the pressure to move from just a consumer to a local grower, producer, processor, and manufacturer can seem overwhelming for the individual, we don’t have to do it all alone. The seeds towards self-sufficiency are sprouting and visible in Kamloops. Food sovereignty is what we work towards at the Kamloops Food Policy Council!
As our grocery stores pivot to different strategies to source food from the east and draw out new travel routes, the consequences of the disruptions caused by the atmospheric river system will be felt for some time to come. While we don’t know the long term ramifications, the general feeling of unease is apparent. Household inflation is already at record highs – how much more can the average consumer bear? Will household food insecurity rise dramatically in Kamloops? While we have so many questions, we can be sure that working towards food sovereignty – being able to feed ourselves from our own backyard – is the only long term strategy that can allow us to overcome the food, climate, and economic crises we are facing in the 21st century.